In recent years, “inclusion” has been a buzzword at this University, but concrete steps on making our University more inclusive in reality have been limited. However, Emory students have recently taken action to make that word a little more real.
The 48th Legislature of the Student Government Association (SGA) unanimously passed an amendment on Monday that will change all instances of gender-specific language within the Constitution — such as the pronouns “he” or “she” and “his” or “hers” — to “they,” “them” and “their” in order to be more inclusive towards students with non-binary gender identities. The bill must now win a majority in a University-wide referendum in order to take effect.
We applaud this genuine effort for greater inclusion in the Emory community. The continued normative use of the gender binary in our institutions is a manifestation of gender prejudice and exclusivity against people living outside of the binary genders of “man” or “woman.” Pronouns such as “they,” besides being used as a specific set of pronouns, are able to act as a neutral way to account for the unaccountable variety of different gender identities.
The use of the singular “they” is disputed almost exclusively on grammatical grounds. Its opponents, pointing fingers at grade school English textbooks, adamantly claim that “they” is grammatically incorrect. Strictly speaking on traditional grammatical grounds, they have a point.
However, there already exists in spoken English a common precedent of using the singular they, which has been used as a part of modern English since Shakespeare, and examples of its use can be found in the works of Jane Austen and Walt Whitman, among others.
Finally — and most importantly — when considering the actual lived identities of people, it is disingenuous, not to mention disrespectful, to claim that the constructed rules of grammar prevent recognizing non-binary genders. Besides, it is only a matter of time before the rules of grammar change to accommodate the inclusivity of non-binary gender identities.
We at the Wheel hope that the University recognizes the importance of extending inclusivity to all members of our community and will vote to pass the upcoming referendum, acting on one step in a long process of furthering the work of gender inclusivity at Emory and disrupting longstanding patterns of prejudice.
We also hope that the goal of gender equality does not end simply at language that is gender-inclusive. Trans*, genderqueer and gender nonconforming individuals are still discriminated against off and on Emory’s campus. We encourage the University and SGA to ensure that their efforts to be inclusive of all genders extends to a commitment to educating students about these identities and serving as helpful allies.
The above staff editorials represent the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.